Read & Appreciated in 2015: Craig McNeely

by Craig McNeely

Read & Appreciated in 2015

While I’m a voracious reader, I certainly don’t claim to have read every good book this year. I look forward to all of the other 2015 releases that I’ll end up discovering in 2016 and beyond. That said, here are some things I really loved the hell out of.

Paul Bishop — LIE CATCHERS

Paul Bishop was already one of the best among us and LIE CATCHERS, published by Arkansan Tommy Hancock’s Pro Se Publications, is my favorite novel of his yet. Not only that, its one of the best “cop” novels I’ve ever read. Bishop’s smooth style and expert plotting keeps the pages flowing and in Pagan and Randall are characters I hope that we are fortunate enough to return to many times to come.

Gabino Iglesias — ZERO SAINTS

Iglesias is one of my favorite people and one of the best young voices in the crime fiction scene. What he has done with SAINTS is genuinely fresh and should be taken as a statement to the rest of the scene that they’ve got some catching up to do. We don’t have time for business-as-usual, not while Gabino shows us what is truly possible. Hilarious, dark, thrilling, provocative — this is how its done, children. This is Gabino’s house and he’s letting us live in it.

James Reasoner — OUTLAW RANGER

This is the first of a series of pulp action westerns by the man who does more of them, and better, than anybody else. Like Bishop, James Reasoner is a guy whose books just fly by. He is so skilled with the page that you are barely aware that you’re even reading.

Greg Barth — SELENA and DIESEL THERAPY

Greg Barth is writing working class pulp crime fiction with a shot of action-adventure. That alone is unique but his deep and nuanced characterization of Selena sets him apart in the genre as well. Barth is one of my dearest friends and it has been exciting and illuminating to see this series grow and see its full potential at All Due Respect. I can’t wait for future installments.

Dallas Mullican — A COIN FOR CHARON

Another great friend of mine, Dallas Mullican’s debut has the dark complexity of Scandinavian noir filtered through the mind of a young and hungry author with a fresh voice. If you like dark psychological thrillers, this was my favorite of the year. We need more Marlowe Gentry novels for sure.

James Walley — THE FORTY FIRST WINK

This book is a Terry Gilliam slapstick comedy written by Douglas Adams with fantastical and horrific undertones. It is the very definition of absurd. Books hardly ever seriously make me laugh but this one is practically delirious in its neverending nonsensical hilarity.

Jeremy Robert Johnson — SKULLCRACK CITY

There are no words for this behemoth. When you think you understand it, you discover that you’ve got no idea. Similarly to Gabino Iglesias, this is a book without boundaries. It isn’t bizarro or crime or science fiction but it is all of those things and more, something you’ve never experienced before. Something you need.

Jake Hinkson — THE DEEPENING SHADE

Jake Hinkson has long been one of the kings of noir. This, a collection of short stories, shows you his versatility. I can hardly think of another author so adept at dropping into the minds of disparate characters. Hinkson is an absolute genius and this is the best short story collection I’ve read in some time. Some of the stories here will just slay you.

SW Lauden — BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION

This is another brilliant debut. What really sets this one apart is the byzantine plot. It is so rare that you find an author so young who is able to control all these twists and turns in a story and keep the novel from crashing. Lauden excells. The man is one to watch.

Kit Power — GOD BOMB

An atheist suicide bomber goes to church and demands to speak to God. It is genius, simple plot but its not simplistic and Power is not a one-note author. He juggles multiple viewpoints and carefully handles the subject matter even as the complexity grows and grows. Once again we have a debut author that seems almost impossibly good at what he does. If you want a thought-provoking, intelligent and exciting read, here you go. You need Kit Power in your life.

Ryan Sayles — SUBTLE ART OF BRUTALITY and WARPATH

I’ve said it before that I think the first Richard Dean Buckner novel by Ryan Sayles are is one of the best PI novels of in recent memory, and now we’ve got the sequel to show us that Ryan hasn’t run out of steam yet. The PI scene is usually incredibly derivative but not so with an author like Sayles who is refreshing in his humor and humanity. Picking up anything with his byline is just pure reading bliss. The man knows what he’s doing and he does it very well.

Benjamin Whitmer — CRY FATHER

Whitmer is another working class hero among us. This book hit paperback this year and so I was finally able to experience it for myself and he joins Harry Crews and Daniel Woodrell as one of the best writers about hard-edged, hard living people. What I love about this novel is that it is essentially a message of hope. It doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities (in fact, I’d argue that Whitmer here exposes things that just aren’t being talked about like they should) but rather he understands that fiction allows us to realize that we can’t make anything better without our imaginations. This novel is heartbreaking and the only thing I didn’t like about it is that it ended.

Derrick Ferguson — the DILLON books

I’m a little bit late to the party that is Derrick Ferguson’s character Dillon, but this year saw the re-release of DILLON AND THE LEGEND OF THE GOLDEN BELL. This set me on a path of tracking down anything and everything to do with the character. This is adventure fiction at its absolute finest. Dillon is a hero in the tradition of Indiana Jones, Dirk Pitt and Doc Savage. Ferguson delivers modern thrills with timeless pulp sensibilities. Everybody should be reading this, its that simple.

Tom Pitts — KNUCKLEBALL

Tom Pitts knows how to get in and get out. The man does not mince words. This is a dirty, dark noir with every ounce of fat trimmed away. Every page, every word, every syllable counts when its coming from the pen of Tom Pitts. Savor it.

Eryk Pruitt — HASHTAG

Pruitt is another writer who knows how to write em fast and mean. There are writers out there who write things that weren’t set in any kind of South that I’ve ever lived in and you can tell because all you’ve gotta do is put their stuff against Pruitt. You open an Eryk Pruitt book and you can feel the Southern sun beating you down. Pruitt’s prose is the sound of your breathing when everything goes dead quiet in the middle of the night and you wonder if you really heard something out your door. HASHTAG is full of fire and life.

Dana King — THE MAN IN THE WINDOW

I love Dana King’s fiction. This is what I reach for at the end of the day and I want something that I know is dependable. Nick Forte is like an old friend at this point. What really sets the Forte novels apart is that hes not an alcoholic, there’s no major tragedy. He has a job and he does it well. The same can be said for Dana King. The man knows how to write em and the world is a better place for it.

MUSIC —

This has been an excellent year for old metalheads like me. There isn’t too much new stuff that has the spark of the metal of old, but luckily there have been several releases this year that show many of the great bands of the past still alive and kicking.

Iron Maiden — BOOK OF SOULS

The best band ever returns with one of their best albums ever.

Raven — EXTERMINATION

Most of my favorite albums this year were from NWOBHM acts and Raven is one of them. This is metal fast and loud, old school like its supposed to be.

Saxon — BATTERING RAM

NWOBHM giants Saxon continue on a high in their career. Great, great stuff.

Eclipse — ARMAGEDDONIZE

The newest band on my list, Swedish hard rockers Eclipse deliver another album of great, memorable tracks. Great songwriting and musicianship all around.

Europe — WAR OF KINGS

This isn’t the Europe of THE FINAL COUNTDOWN. Instead, this is some excellent heavy blues rock and Joey Tempest continues to deliver great vocals.

Praying Mantis — LEGACY

Praying Mantis is one of the best bands that hardly anyone seems to recognize. They’re not breaking new ground but they are delivering more excellent melodic rock.

Tank — VALLEY OF TEARS

See my comments on Raven and Saxon. If you like badass, old school British steel, this is for you.

Satan — ATOM BY ATOM

See above. Satan finally come back to show the kiddos how its done.

Stryper — FALLEN

Stryper are probably more known for their style and the fact that the members are all Christian than they are for their music. However, Stryper have returned to form in recent years and FALLEN is yet another great album.

Chastain — WE BLEED METAL

David Chastain is one of the shreddiest guitar heroes of the 80s and his eponymous band returns with Leather Leone at the helm. Great vocals, great no-nonsense hard-hitting metal. Just look at that title!

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